The Cardigan, Part II — Cable Knit

cardigan2Location: Basilique Members Club

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

Why would we be pulling out our school boy recitation of The Charge of the Light Brigade in a post about cardigans? Because, dear reader, the cardigan is so named after the general who was known for wearing a knitted woolen coat or jacket. Prince (later King) Bertie may have made the cardigan a recognizable go-to staple of the gentleman’s wardrobe, but he didn’t give it the name. The responsible party there is actually Lieutenant General James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, KCB, with the help of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The 7th Earl is also and not coincidentally famous for leading his Light Cavalry Brigade into a very sticky situation on October 25, 1854 in the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. That is what really put his name on people’s radar screens, or the mid-19th century equivalent of same. He happened to like to wear a knitted jacket that was common among military types of the day. Tennyson’s poem celebrating the Light Brigade helped make Lord Cardigan a household name, which consequently led to the garment becoming entangled with him. And there you have that.

We might wonder at a popular knitted jacket being named for such a character. After all, contemporary assessments of the general are not favorable. He is, in fact, seen as something of a military numbskull, and the Light Brigade charge — a band of men on horseback waving swords — into cannon fire recognized as being, well, rather dumb. But we forget that at the time, he was much ballyhooed, seen as a great hero of the Crimean War.

Cardigans were made into a fashion staple for women by Coco Chanel in the 1920s, but it took about another decade for them to be truly central to a gentleman’s casual wardrobe. We certainly see them on men in the 1920s and earlier, mostly on the links, but it’s really in the 1930s that we start seeing them all over the gentlemen’s fashion spreads.

Cable knits can be seen in fashion illustrations of the first half of the 20th century, worn on the ski slopes, the tennis court and the cricket pitch. A cable knit adds bulk and warmth, and is consequently particularly suitable for colder weather and presenting a casual, country ramble sort of look.

Suggested

Cardigan ~ Sakida, Irish cardigan in khaki

Trousers ~ Bastard, casual baggy in steel

Shirt ~ Kauna XIV in white

Tie ~  Kauna XIV fish grey (part of Tweed Twill Grey suit combination)

Cap ~ richie Kimono, tweed wheat flat cap

Shoes ~ Fir & MNA, Ashford Brogue, grey and charcoal

Dressed for L$1826, inclusive of Kauna suit elements not worn. With a separately purchased Kauna tie, this outfit would be L$1118.

Resources Consulted

Alfred, Lord Tennyson — Charge of the Light Brigade

Gentleman’s Gazette — The Cardigan Guide

VictorianWeb.org

Vintage Dancer — History of 1920s Men’s Sweaters, Pullovers, Cardigans

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